30th Dec2015

‘Hercules’ & ‘Hercules II’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Many would say that physical formats are dying out, people are moving from DVD to digital, leaving Blu-ray to disc afficionados and home theatre enthusiasts. Yet, unbelievably, there is an ever-growing – some might say rabid – fanbase for obscure and long-forgotten movies on the format, so much so that distribution labels new and old are digging through the archives of cinema, trying to find that next big “cult” hit. Here in the UK we have the likes of Arrow Video, undoubtedly the pioneers of cult-movie Blu-ray releases on these shores; 88 Films, who joined the cult fray with their “Slasher Classics” and “Italian Collection” sub-labels; and Odeon Entertainment, who specialise in re-releasing classic British horror fare on Blu-ray.

But, I posit that there’s only one company in England REALLY trawling the true “cult” movie archives and that’s 101 Films. Action movies from the likes of Albert Pyun, horror starring killer dolls and Robert Englund, trashy video game tie-ins and ultra-low budget Far East kung-fu flicks, 101 Films offer fans like me the opportunity to not only rewatch but rediscover films long since forgotten about in the post-VHS era. Nowhere is that more evident in their releasing of Lou Ferrigno’s THREE (yes, three) Italian-lensed fantasy flicks – who else but a true cult label would take the risk releasing such movies?

Hercules

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Written and directed by Luigi Cozzi, Hercules and it’s sequel The Adventures of Hercules II were filmed on the cheap in Italy – the first film was shot back-to-back with another Lou Ferrigno film, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators to save money, re-use sets and re-use cast for example – and released during the early days of Cannon Films.

Hercules tells the story of the titular (Ferrigno) battling the wizard Minos (William Berger), who uses “science” in an attempt to take over the world. Hercules must stop him and rescue his princess love in the process. But this is an Italian sword and scorcery movie, made in the 80s, so you know what’s coming! Stop motion creatures/robots, rotoscoped effects, dodgy dubbing and an amazing score from Pino Donaggio!

What first strikes you about this  movie is the very serious nature of it’s story. Unlike the sequel, which is filled with odd creatures and very fantastical elements, Hercules plays things remarkably straight – right from the foreboding intro, telling the story of the birth of the universe (a story which is contradicted in the sequel), to the all-too-familiar labours our hero must undertake to save the universe – including battling the fakest-looking bear I’ve ever seen… Though what Hercules does have over its sequel is the stunning chest of Sybil Danning!

The Adventures of Hercules II

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Filmed two years after the first film, The Adventure of Hercules II (the onscreen title omits the “II”) isn’t so much a sequel as it is another retelling of the same story – only this time Luigi Cozzi adds in even more gods – including Aphrodite, Hera, Poseidon and Flora who have stolen Zeus’ seven mighty thunderbolts, plunging the world into disaster. The moon is knocked out of its orbit and is hurtling towards the earth. Urania and her sister Glaucia figure the only way to save the earth is by calling upon the mighty demigod Hercules to return the thunderbolts to Mount Olympus. But each of the thunderbolts are hidden inside of a monster… And Minos is once again using science to help the vengeful gods stop Hercules!

Oh and guess what? Not only is Minos back for the sequel, but Hercules II also once again features stop motion creatures/robots, rotoscoped effects, dodgy dubbing and an amazing score from Pino Donaggio. Only this time Donaggio’s score isn’t a new one – it’s just the original films score re-purposed. And this film isn’t afraid to re-use footage either, which is all too evident when you watch both flicks back-to-back!

It’s hard to believe that, given the lacklustre reception afforded the first film, that a sequel would be green lit (but hey, this is Italian filmmakers we’re talking about). Even more unbelieveable is that is looks like they spent even MORE money on this film… Hercules fight robots, moves mountains and somehow doesn’t get mangled by spiked chariots – and that’s only in the credits sequence! Just wait till you see Hercules as a huge rotoscoped blue ape and eventually move galaxies later in the film! Cozzi and co. really up the visual ante with the sequel, throwing in special effect after special effect; and surprisingly some of the stop-motion work even rivals the classic Ray Harryhausen effects of the 60s/70s!
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Released for the first time on Blu-ray by 101 Films, both Hercules movies look and sound amazing. The picture quality is simply stunning, especially Hercules II which – despite the soft-focus elements of the film and generally lower quality effects sequences (a side-effect of their creation in the 80s) – has never looked better. I doubt even those that saw these films in the cinema enjoyed such pristine image quality. So crisp is the PQ that the more gruesome aspects of the films effects are [finally] given a chance to shine.

Sadly these new Blu-ray releases don’t feature much in the way of extras, both only carry the original trailer alongside the film. I would have loved to have seen a new interview with Ferrigno for example. But hey, when you’re already taking a huge financial risk releasing such truly cult fare as this I doubt there’s much room in the budget for creating new extras.

If you’re a fan of these Ferrigno films, or a fan of cheesy fantasy flicks in general, then these two Blu-rays are an essential purchase.Hercules and The Adventures of Hercules II are released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 4th, courtesy of 101 Films.

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